In the dying days of the Raj, can paths divided by time and circumstance ever find each other again?
In 1930s Northern India, childhood friends Stella and Andrew have grown up together in the orbit of the majestic Raj Hotel. Spirited Stella has always had a soft spot for boisterous Andrew, though she dreams of meeting a soulmate from outside the close-knit community. But life is turned on its head when one scandal shatters their friendship and another sees her abandoned by the man she thought she loved.
As the Second World War looms, Andrew joins the army to fight for freedom. Meanwhile in India, Stella, reeling from her terrible betrayal, also throws herself into the war effort, volunteering for the Women’s Auxiliary Corps, resigned to living a lonelier life than the one she dreamed of as a child.
When Andrew returns to the East on the eve of battle with Japan, the two former friends are reunited, though bitter experience has changed them. Can they rekindle what they once had or will war demand of their friendship the ultimate sacrifice?
This long, detailed story takes us from pre-war India and Scotland to the tragic events during World War Two in India and Burma. The heroine, Stella Dubois, assists both her parents at the Raj Hotel, Rawlpindi and Mr and Mrs Lomax at the Raj-in-the-hills Hotel. She has always been a good friend of Andrew Lomax, even though the young teenager is 6 years younger than her, so when it is decided that he should visit his mother, Lydia, former wife of Tom Lomax, Stella accompanies him on the journey to Scotland. Expecting to be welcomed by Lydia, whom she remembers from her childhood, she is surprised to be treated like a servant. Lydia soon turns Andrew against his father and stepmother, so Stella returns to India leaving Andrew in Scotland.
Although this is Book 2 of a series, I read it as a standalone and it works perfectly. Past events happened when Andrew, was a child, so we learn about book one as he struggles to come to terms with secrets kept from him.
Stella misses Andrew and regrets the loss of a possible romantic experience with a young man she met on board ship but she gratefully returns to her busy life at the hotels. We gradually learn of the momentous events at the beginning of the second world war and as Andrew joined up at the first opportunity, he was one of the men recued at Dunkirk. Inadvertently Andrew gives Stella information which enables her to reconnect with the Irishman she had met on board ship. This time they are able to develop their relationship and Stella believes she has finally found her life partner. But wartime events separate them and the Lomax family worry about the safety of Andrew.
There is sadness and tragedy as in all wartime stories but family bonds, friendship and love reunite Stella with those she holds dear in a very satisfying denouement.
The Sapphire Child on Amazon UK
Janet MacLeod Trotter